The Great WORD Debate : uproariously entertaining – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Irreverently silly, relentlessly roasting and just a little bit real, the Great WORD Debaters had a sold out audience in stitches at The Piano Concert Chamber on Saturday night.

Blurring those lines again (you know the ones, fact and fiction), the speakers entertained with anecdotes, shaggy dog stories, impressions and some pretty solid arguments.

Adventure being the theme of the festival, the topic of debate left everything to the imagination:

That we should be free to choose our own adventure.

The M.C. for the evening was larger-than-life Joe Bennett, who had those of us who thought we were worn out sitting up in our seats, introducing:

Team for the Affirmative: Paula Morris, Tom Scott and Daniel Mallory (AJ Finn).

Team for the Negative: Michele A’Court, David Slack and Denise Mina.

Paula Morris, herself an international woman of mystery, opened proceedings with a wry, witty and clean (which is more than I can say for some) argument in favor of choosing to live an adventurous life, and the value of being free to choose said adventures. Playing the straight-woman, her stern jokes were all the more funny as she suggested that the team for the negative would rather be tucked up in bed with a cup of tea.

The Great WORD Debate. Image supplied.
The Great WORD Debate. Image supplied.

Michele A’Court, as leader of the opposition, fired back with hilarious and strong arguments in favour of letting our adventures choose us. Perhaps Michelle went to Charlotte Grimshaw as her point hinged on the existential question that perhaps it’s not the grand plan, but the surprises that make our lives big, rich and entertaining. Michele herself has lived a “daring, high-risk” life at the hands of her publishers.

Michele embellished her case with such colourful examples as oysters having no grit, a WORD Festival with no books (horrors!) and the clincher that

“Careful planning did not produce Jacinda Ardern’s baby.”

The fabulously received and recently iconized (it happened last night) Tom Scott set the bar for impressions, invoking Sir Rob Muldoon in a way that was so spooky I would have had goosebumps if I wasn’t laughing so hard. However he then lowered the tone, telling stories about Sir Edmund Hillary and others that, if true, would make your grandmother blush. In fact I’m sure I saw some. (I’m not sure I would choose some of the adventures Tom was suggesting.)

Next up David Slack who was of the opinion that if choice was the issue, we should be free to choose not to have adventures, as one can just as easily have them safely at home. David cited the perils of hiring cowboys to do renovations, striking fear into the heart of every Cantabrian. The third person from Feilding besides me and Tom Scott, David’s list of adventurous activities include a good cheese scone and putting Feilding in your rear view mirror. Lol.

But it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Things got a little bit real when M.C. Joe Bennett ribbed Dan Mallory that after his huge success (Dan/AJ’s book, The Woman in the Window is the biggest seller in the world right now), it would be all downhill from here.

Dan’s argument completely kicked this to the kerb with a (literally) mind-blowing and incredibly brave tale of his battle with depression; choosing to take the risk of ECT treatment. The fact that the highly successful author saw this as an adventure was testament to his determination to choose how to define it.

Lastly, the delightful Denise Mina, who based her whole argument on a professional life of being thrown in at the deep end; using this evening as an example. Mina reiterated her team’s point that one doesn’t need to choose wild adventures to the Great Wall of China so that you can bore your friends and relatives to death with photos. Instead life can come at you, she said, observing that it might be naively adventurous to invite a Glaswegian to a friendly argument.

If you want an adventure, says Mina, come to Glasgow and eat the food.

Traditionally a draw, last night’s Great WORD Debate had a clear winner; the side for the affirmative. We like clear winners here.

Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

No nodding off, it’s bad for TV: The Good Word debate

Jennifer Ward-LealandIt was difficult to sum up the experience in our short audio wrap up, but amongst all the audience instructions, goodie bags (mine had a Collins New Zealand dictionary, a DVD and a TVNZ7 notebook) and photo opportunities The Good Word Debate was an interesting one : Off the shelf and into the hard drive: the book is dead.

Arguments for the book being dead  – put by Finlay Macdonald, Gordon McLauchlan and Jennifer Ward Lealand:

  • the top-heavy, wasteful economy of scale of publishing is dying, contributing to the literary landfill
  • It’s environmentally friendlier to use digital versions
  • Changing the publishing industry will bring readers and writers closer together
  • Being cheaper to produce, authors will earn more
  • More access to back-lists
  • The book is a sacred object – devotees will barricade themselves in libraries and read Proust until the vandals arrive.

Arguments against, argued by Emily Perkins, Bill Hastings and Steve Braunias stacked up like this:

  • New media doesn’t replace old media
  • Books warm a room – if they’re not there, will curious visitors go through your fridge instead?
  • E-book devices are harder to hide under the bed – so long as people need tittilation there will be books
  • Naysayers were proving the mind is dead, not the book
  • That e-book is still fundamental to book
  • Books help with social intercourse, and get people together

On the night, the audience went with the negative team, so the book is not dead. For my money, the logic and the strongest arguments were with the affirmative. The format will eventually change, diversify, morph. So here’s the water-cooler topic for today – is the book dead – or is it just terminally ill?

Wednesday @ the festival: Delights, debate and more

After an early start and a landing at Auckland Airport that was a little like being on the inside of a giant caterpillar, the team has had its first chance to savour the literary offerings at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

Bronwyn enjoyed High Tea, Roberta went to a schools session with Des Hunt, Marion explored local book offerings, and Richard interviewed Charlie Dark and Te Radar.

We also attended the TVNZ7 Good Word debate, filmed live at St Matthew in the City. Where, according to host Te Radar,  ‘literary warriors unsheath swords of verbosity’. The moot? Off the shelf and into the hard drive: the book is dead.  Finlay Macdonald, Gordon McLauchlan and Jennifer Ward Lealand argued the affirmative, while Emily Perkins, Steve Braunias, and Bill Hastings took the negative. The teams got stuck into the topic and hammered it out – the book lovers eventually coming out on top by audience vote. The debate will screen on TVNZ 7 in October.

Today the festival has a full day of programming followed by the official opening gala.